Wyatt (1557) In Sir Thomas Wyatt's poem, a lone hunter begins by stating, "Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind," (l. 1). He goes on to mourn the weariness of the chase, before imparting some advice to other men who might want to hunt: "Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt, / As well as I may spend his time in vain" (ll. 9-10). The quarry—the deer (i.e., the woman)—is owned by another. She belongs to Caesar and is marked with the warning Noli me tangere ("Touch me not," l. 13).
This sonnet is technically a translation of Petrarch's Sonnet 190 and, as such, generally follows the Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet form. The most commonly accepted interpretation is a generally biographical reading wherein the hunter is Wyatt himself and the hind is Anne Boleyn, rumored mistress of Wyatt but definitely the mistress (and later queen) of Henry VIII. Critics have examined Wyatt's changes to the original and his vocabulary choices. In particular, the focus has been on the motivation of the speaker. Wyatt's speaker, unlike Petrarch's, is weary of the chase: ". . . hélas, I may no more. / The vain travail hath wearied me so sore" (ll. 2-3). His "wearied mind" (l. 5) is expressed throughout the remainder of the octave, culminating with "Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore" (l. 7). The sense of exhaustion, weariness, and sadness is emphasized through the early repetition of an initial h, an aspiration, and akin to a sigh: "hunt" and "hind" (l. 1), "hélas" (l. 2), "hath" (l. 3). In particular, "hélas," an archaic form of "alas," not only echoes a lover's sigh but also tones down passion— "alas" is a common interjection, often followed by an exclamation point to emphasize alarm or extreme sorrow, but hélas is understated and tired.
Some critics have also noted that this sonnet works backwards, with the octave describing the effect (weary resignation) and the sestet depicting the catalyst (seeing the hind). The hind herself differs from Petrarch's in a number of ways. His deer is a pure white doe with gold antlers, wearing a necklace of topaz and diamonds. The doe's purity, rarity, and worth are emphasized, as is her independence: Petrarch's deer wanders free because her Caesar has made her so. Wyatt's deer seems common; he suggests that any hunter might pursue her, and though she is "fair" (l. 12), she is neither pure nor rare. However, she is branded with ownership: Her collar firmly establishes that she cannot be touched. The provocative ending has caused some debate. The hind insists that she is "And wild for to hold, though I seem tame" (l. 14), leaving the impression that she merely appears to be trapped but is really free. This position imparts a measure of subjectivity to the otherwise constrained deer; indeed, through Petrarch's doe appears to wander farther and freer, she is free by her master's orders, while Wyatt's hind, though she appears to be completely possessed, is deceptively submissive while truly uncontrolled. Wyatt alludes to this earlier, in his metaphorical comparison of the hind to "the wind" (l. 8) and in the overall impossibility of the chase.
Finally, Wyatt's use of the phrase noli me tangere contains a biblical allusion to John 20:17: Immediately post-Resurrection, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, but when she tried to embrace him, he told her not to touch him. More literally, however, the phrase means "cease desiring to touch me"—a subtle difference, but one that imparts power to the hind: She is essentially ordering the speaker not to want to touch her, therefore controlling his feelings as well as his actions. However, she is only partially successful. Though Wyatt ends the chase, he cannot, by any means, draw his mind from the deer (ll. 5-6). He continues to want her, though he terminates the pursuit. See also "They Flee from Me."
Boyarin, Adrienne Williams. "Competing Biblical and Virgil-ian Allusions in Wyatt's 'Who so List to Hounte.'" N&Q 53, no. 4 (2006): 417-421. Powell, Jason. "'For Caesar's I Am': Henrician Diplomacy and Representations of King and Country in Thomas Wyatt's Poetry." Sixteenth Century Journal 36, no. 2 (2005): 415-431.
"WIDSITH" Anonymous (before 1072) "Wid-sith," a 143-line poem found in the Exeter Book, is one of only two Old English (Anglo-Saxon) poems to focus on the life of the Anglo-Saxon poet-musician commonly called a scop (the other work is "deor"). As with most poems of this period, the authorship and date of composition of "Widsith" are unknown. Structurally, the poem is similar to "The Wanderer," with a brief prologue and epilogue by a third-person narrator framing the main portion, which is told from the perspective of the title character himself.
After being introduced by the narrator as a man who has visited many lands and received treasure from various leaders, Widsith ("Far-Traveler") recites three lengthy catalogs of the tribes, rulers, and nations he has seen. The names are mainly drawn from the Germanic heroic period of the fourth through the sixth centuries. The chronological and geographical range of these wanderings, however, makes it apparent that Widsith is no ordinary minstrel. He claims to have been with rulers including the third-century Eastgota (l. 113) and sixth-century ^lfwine (l. 70), and to have visited the Scandinavian tribes of the far north as well as the Middle Eastern homes of the Israelites and Persians. Clearly he is meant to be a representative figure, an idealized scop able to draw on a vast body of historic and legendary knowledge for his songs.
While much scholarship on Widsith has centered around its wealth of detail about early Germanic legends, the poem also gives an important description of the scop's role in Anglo-Saxon society. Curiously, the term scop is never used in the poem, though the narrator refers to Widsith as one of the gleomen—minstrels—in the epilogue. Widsith claims to have received gifts such as gold collars in exchange for his services, much as warriors were given gold as reward for their bravery in battle. The scop's importance to rulers lay in his ability to make or break reputations. As illustrated in Beowulf and other poems, the songs sung by scops in the mead hall preserved the memories of heroic figures and events, and how a ruler was characterized by the singer had lasting effect on his or her fame (dom).
An interesting aspect of this reciprocal relationship is revealed in Widsith's tendency to whitewash the scandalous reputations of some of his patrons. Eor-manric, for example, was known for his cruelty and especially for the murder of his wife Ealhhilde. The narrator alludes to this in the prologue by calling him a wrafles wœrlogan ("cruel troth-breaker," l. 9), yet Wid-sith himself only praises the great generosity of both Eormanric and his queen. Some earlier critics took this as evidence that the poem was intended as a "begging poem"—a device used by an actual scop to demonstrate his talent and ability to flatter, in hopes of gaining a new patron, much as Geoffrey Chaucer would do several centuries later in "The Complaint of Chaucer to his Purse." More recent scholars, however, suggest that the poet is being intentionally ironic, satirizing the greed or naïveté of singers intent on pleasing their patrons. The poem's epilogue seems to support such an interpretation as the narrator hints at the political ambitiousness of rulers eager to build and sustain their reputations through the influential songs of the scops.
Bradley, S. A. J., ed. and trans. Anglo-Saxon Poetry. London: Dent, 1982.
Krapp, George Philip, and Elliott Van Kirk Dobbie, eds. The Exeter Booh. New York: Columbia University Press, 1936.
"WIFE OF BATH'S PROLOGUE AND TALE, THE" Geoffrey Chaucer (ca. 13921395) The Wife of Bath is one of the most memorable pilgrims in Geoffrey Chaucer's masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales. Her portrait in the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales reveals some interesting details: She is somewhat deaf, she is a weaver, she has had five husbands, she undertakes pilgrimages, and she is "gat-tothed" (gap-toothed), meaning she was very sexual (see physiognomy). Her prologue confirms all of these initial impressions as the Wife details the story of her life, especially her many marriages. Her first lines set out her premise: "Experience, though noon auctoritee / were in this world, is right ynogh for me" (ll. 1-2). Experience is more important than "authority," or studies, to the Wife, who is very experienced when it comes to marriage. She begins by challenging those who question her right to marry five times, citing biblical examples, including the Woman of Samaria, Solomon, Abraham, and Jacob—all of whom had more than one spouse.
The Wife's overwhelming reason for her multiple marriages, however, is her desire for sex, justifying her lustful nature by saying, "Bet is to be wedded than to brynne" (better to be married than to burn, i.e., be consumed with sexual desire, ll. 52), which is her version of Pauline doctrine. The Wife then proceeds to challenge the idealization of virginity, which was the Church's primary teaching in regard to women. Virgins were considered spiritually (as well as physically) pure. Similarly, widows who did not remarry proved themselves beyond physical desires. Wives, who were obligated to engage in sexual relations with their husbands, were the least sanctified as they regularly indulged in filth of the flesh. In particular, the Wife challenges St. Jerome, whose teachings about virginity had heavily influenced the Church. Her primary argument is that God created both sex and sexual organs, so they must be good and meant to be enjoyed. Her defense of sexuality culminates in an expression of personal enjoyment:
In wifhode I wol use mine instrument
As frely as my makere hath it sent.
Mine housbonde shal it have both eve and morwe,
Whan that him list com forth and paye his dette.
The Wife pledges to satisfy her husband completely, as long as he returns her regard, citing the "marital debt" (reciprocal sexual expectations) as her legal right.
At this point, the Pardoner, another pilgrim, interrupts the Wife's discourse. Claiming he is about to marry, he beseeches the Wife to share her vast knowledge, which she agrees to do. The prologue then continues with the story of her marriages.
Of her husbands, the Wife claims, "three of hem were goode and two were badde" (l. 196). Her first three husbands were older than she, kept her sexually satisfied, and left her their property when they died. She spends 144 lines paraphrasing speeches she gave her husbands, couched as advice to wives, all of which are based on traditional medieval antifeminist rhetoric. These culminate with her declaration, "We [wives] love no man that taketh kep or charge / wher that we goon . . ." (ll. 321-322). The Wife then continues, detailing how she controlled her husbands rhetorically, through accusations, drunken flattery, and deception—and of course through sex.
The Wife then turns to her two bad husbands. Her fourth kept a mistress and tried to stop her from drinking wine, neither of which pleased her. She repaid him by flirting outrageously with other men. The fifth husband she claims to have loved best, even though his love was "daungerous to me," (l. 514). In Middle English, daungerous meant both "standoffish" and, literally, "dangerous." Both meanings apply here. Jankyn was younger than she (20 to her 40) and poor. He was also handsome, and the Wife desired him sexually. After their marriage, however, Jankyn turned mean. He read to her each night from a book of "wicked wives." The Wife paraphrases the contents of this book, which include a list of selfish and unfaithful women throughout history. It is during this recitation that she asks her famous question: "Who peyntede the leon, tel me who?" (l. 692), referencing one of Aesop's fables in which a man paints a picture of a hunter killing a lion, whereupon a lion remarks that if he had painted the scene, he would have shown the lion as victorious. Similarly, the Wife dismisses Jankyn's antifeminist/ antimarriage rhetoric by implying that the stories would be much different if women had told them. Jankyn's book so infuriated the Wife that she punched him, grabbed the book, and burned it. He retaliated by hitting her in the head (the cause of her deafness). She collapsed. Jankyn, fearing she was dead, ran over and apologized. Eventually, the Wife says, the two came to some accord, and lived harmoniously until Jankyn died.
At this point, the Friar breaks in, declaring the prologue too long, to which the Summoner responds by cursing him. The Host ends the argument but urges the Wife to tell her tale.
"The Wife of Bath's Tale" echoes the arthurian literature tradition. It opens in the "dayes of King Arthour" (l. 857), with a knight riding through the forest. Spotting a beautiful young maiden, the knight is seized by lust and rapes her. When he is brought before the court, the queen begs the king for permission to decide his fate. This request is granted, and she renders his sentence: "I graunte thee lif if thou kanst tellen me / what thing is it that wommen moost desiren" (ll. 904-905).
Given a year and a day to complete his quest, the knight sets out. His quest is unsuccessful. Just as he begins his return to the court, however, he encounters a loathly old woman. She notices his sadness and offers to help, on the condition that he promises to grant an unspecified request. The bargain is struck, and the knight returns to court.
Appearing before the queen, the knight proclaims the answer to her question: "Wommen desiren to have sovereynetee / as well over hir housbond as hir love, / and for to been in maistrie hym above" (ll. 1039-1040). None of the women disputes this answer, so the knight is free to go. The old woman then approaches the knight, reminding him of his promise and demanding that he marry her. Repulsed, the knight begs her to "taak all my good and lat my body go" (l. 1061), but she refuses, and they wed.
In bed that night, the knight is distressed, though the old woman is merry. She asks why he is upset, and he replies, "thou art so loothly, and so oold also" (l. 1100). The old woman responds with a discussion in which she challenges the traditional notion of gentility being based on birth and wealth; rather, true gentility derives from one's actions. She concludes by offering the knight a choice: She will remain old, ugly, and faithful, or she will transform herself into being beautiful and young, but potentially unchaste. The knight considers his options and eventually declares: "I put me in youre wise governance; / Cheseth youreself which may be moost plesance" (ll. 1231-1232). Having acquired the mastery she desired all along, the old woman then chooses to be both beautiful and faithful, a decision the knight accepts happily.
"The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale" are commonly taught as one piece. The prologue combines elements of sermons and a confession. Like a sermon, it contains biblical allusions and references, lessons, and an exemplum. In relating the personal details of her life and adventures, however, the Wife is also "confessing" to the other pilgrims in the sense of a modern talk show, not the medieval church. She is not seeking penance and redemption; rather, she is seeking validation and entertainment. The tale is a romance that contains the traditional elements but also includes unique variants such as the rather casual rape at the beginning.
The various characters described by the Wife are rarely individualized and instead are generally presented as a "type," or stock character. Her first three husbands are presented collectively, and even the fourth is not detailed, though he warrants special mention. The fifth, however, is not only discussed in depth but is also named and given a profession. Similarly, the knight, the maiden, and even the queen are not described beyond their standard roles. only the old woman is given personality and true character.
"The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale" have been the subject of a great deal of critical attention and controversy over the years. Early critics concentrated on dating and manuscript variants as well as on determining source materials. For the prologue, Chaucer relied heavily on St. Jerome's letter Adversus Jovinianum and the French Romance Roman de la Rose by Guillaume de Lorris and
Jean de Muin, of which Chaucer had completed a partial translation earlier in his career. For the tale, he drew on two sources: John Gower's "Tale of Florent," found in the Confessio Amantis, and the anonymous romance The Weddynge of Sir Gawen and Dame Ragnell.
other early criticism sought to deemphasize the Wife's individuality and instead read her as a device, allegory, parody, or social type. For instance, the Wife is a secular professional woman in an era when that was rare. Allegorically, some critics have read the rape and the knight's subsequent gentility as a political message to Richard II, asking the king to stop "raping" his people and to treat them with gentility. Iconographi-cally, some critics have viewed the Wife as a representation of femininity gone wild and/or lust. As a parody, the Wife is often seen as a "funny" portrait of a woman as portrayed by misogynists.
New Historicist and Marxist critics have taken different approaches than the traditional ones outlined above. For instance, situating the Wife in the context of 14th-century struggles between classes reveals commentary on the changing face of medieval social power structures, where wealth was increasingly not tied to aristocracy. Additionally, several critics have examined the Wife in terms of economics. She is a professional weaver, a guild member, and capable of earning capital. Moreover, through her marriages she has acquired capital, making her both merchant and commodity. Realizing this, the Wife then accumulates profit in the easiest and most efficient ways. She is a professional wife. Psychoanalytic critics have tended either to see the Wife as an extension of Chaucer and his conflicted views of women and marriage—complicated further by charges of raptus, which can indicate either rape or abduction or both, leveled against him—or to view her as an independent character complete with a unique psychological profile. These readings tend to view her prologue, and to a lesser extent her tale, as an autobiography rather than a sermon or confession. Coupled with the romance-fantasy tale, these narratives reveal the Wife's inner desires and pleasures.
The largest body of criticism on the Wife's prologue and tale, however, is feminist criticism, which often incorporates elements from other aspects as well. Numerous scholars have dubbed her a proto-feminist, sparking debates about the nature of that term. More problematically, the Wife is a character constructed by a male author—Chaucer. If she is a proto-feminist, does that, then, make him one? Along these lines is the idea that Chaucer, though a medieval man steeped in his own era, at least allows a glimpse of feminine desire and perspective. Another common approach sees the Wife as a subversive character but relies on her "pathetic" qualities to evoke sympathy and compassion. In this view, Chaucer is credited with a consciousness-raising effort, produced by demonstrating the monstrous qualities of misogyny.
Perhaps most intriguing is the tendency for critics to dismiss charges of misogyny and forgive Chaucer's lapses. Even many feminist critics who point out flaws in Chaucer's "feminism" or see limitations in his approach tend to excuse him somehow. Is this the hallmark of Chaucer's influence? or is it a reluctance to give up the Wife as a symbol of early feminism?
More recently, feminist critics have begun questioning this complacency and the standard approaches. Elaine Tuttle Hansen, for example, effectively demonstrates how the Wife is actually silenced, though she speaks a great deal. Throughout most of her prologue and tale, the Wife says very little on her own and instead relies on the words of male authorities— reshaped, certainly, but nonetheless present. Moreover, the apparent rewarding of a rapist-knight is troubling and points to the overall ineffectiveness of the Wife's apparent feminism. In creating such an outrageous example of "feminism," Chaucer subtly and effectively undermines her apparent success, thus reinforcing the male status quo.
other critics have begun examining the role of violence in the Wife's prologue and tale as a measure of misogyny, certainly, but also contextually as domestic violence and economic violence. In this way, too, the Wife only appears to be free from male control while actually serving to reinforce patriarchal standards.
Amsler, Mark. "The Wife of Bath and Women's Power."
Assays 4 (1987): 67-83. Colmer, Dorothy. "Character and Class in the Wife of Bath's
Tale." JEGP 72 (1973): 329-339. Delany, Sheila. "Strategies of Silence in the Wife of Bath's Recital." Exemplaria 2 (1990): 49-69.
Dinshaw, Carolyn. Chaucer's Sexual Poetics. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989. Hansen, Elaine Tuttle. Chaucer and the Fictions of Gender.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992. Justman, Stewart. "Trade as Pudendum: Chaucer's Wife of
Bath." Chaucer Review 28 (1994): 344-352. Martin, Priscilla. Chaucer's Women: Nuns, Wives, and Amazons. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1990. Straus, Barrie. "The Subversive Discourse of the Wife of Bath: Phallocentric Discourse and the Imprisonment of Criticism." ELH 55 (1988): 527-554.
"WIFE'S LAMENT, THE" Anonymous (before 1072) A short (53-line) poem in Old English, found in the Exeter Book, "The Wife's Lament" is generally treated as an elegy, though it is also referred to as a Frauenlied (women's song). However, since lamentation was women's responsibility, the two genres overlap.
As the poem opens, a lone female speaker is mourning her exile, which is the greatest trauma she has faced in her life. Her lord, perhaps her husband, sailed away. Worried, she decided to make her position more secure. Meanwhile, her lord's kinfolk plotted against her, conspiring to keep them apart. She has no friends where she dwells and remains only because her lord commanded that she do so. She has been alone before, but then she met her lord, and they had each other. Now she cannot bear the loneliness. She has been cast out of her home, sent to live in a cave. She looks out over the dark and friendless landscape, longing for her lord and mourning her losses.
Traditional scholarship has read the woman as a peace-weaver, sent to live among a hostile tribe and thus exiled from her friends and family, but also exiled within her new society. Based on this perspective, there has been a great deal of speculation about the nature of the husband-wife relationship. Clearly the wife misses her husband. Some scholars believe that the husband does not (or no longer does) reciprocate her feelings— he has turned against her, possibly because of his family's hostility. Another perspective is that she and her husband share the same feelings and that he is just as devastated as she is, though the poem reflects only her perspective. The general intimacy and tone of despair lend credence to this perspective. Linguistic support for a reciprocal relationship exists as well: The wife uses dual pronouns in her expression of grief to convey the relationship with her husband: unc (us two, l. 12b) and wit (we two, l. 13). The usage of these pronouns, which are no longer found in English, increase the private, inanimate nature of their relationship.
Another, less common, interpretation of the poem relies on allegory. In this reading, the wife is read as the church (the bride of Christ) who has been exiled from her lord (Christ in heaven). A similarly unusual reading sees the wife as someone speaking from beyond the grave, relying on her description of being sent to live in an underground cell, which might be a grave.
As an elegy, "The Wife's Lament" shares many characteristics with the other old English poems of like construction such as "The Seafarer" and "The Wanderer." There is a solitary figure speaking in the first person about being exiled, there is a sea journey, and the speaker faces hostile forces. Whether or not it is an elegy, most critics agree that the poem is an expression of mournful longing and female desire. Feminist critics have especially appreciated it as one of the only first person female-authored (or at least female-voiced) poems to come out of early British literature.
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